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Never in the history of civilization has there existed the wide-range of options available today to satisfy our hunger for the written word. Books, magazines, newspapers, the internet, not to mention junk mail, all vie for the limited amount of time we all have to devote to reading. I myself am guilty of reading cereal boxes (hot cereal has more information due to the cooking instructions) while sitting at the breakfast table if I’ve already read everything else that’s around.

I have observed that of those who travel extensively many tend to pack several titles in their carry-ons and they consider any journey undertaken without something to bury their noses in to be somewhat diminished. With that in mind and because there are more books out there than any of us will ever be able to read in our lifetimes, this page will try its best to recommend worthy candidates for your consideration and leave the current bestsellers to others. Titles will vary, some may be obscure or written generations ago (a long trip is always a good excuse to re-visit the classics) or perhaps be cult favorites you may or may not have heard about. Whatever genre or amount of time since first publication, I recommend them because I have read them myself and was captivated by the stories that lay in their pages.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

The prolific Australian author’s only U.S. published novel is a fantastic tale of South Africa told through the eyes of a six-year-old English boy named Peekay. It begins around the outset of WWII and epically tells both the story of the very beginnings of apartheid and Peekay’s unwavering desire and determination to become the Welter Weight Boxing Champion of the world. Courtenay manages to juxtapose the horrors of prejudice and the difficult life of being an outsider with the breathtaking natural beauty found in the beloved country of his birth.
His characters are innumerable, memorable and as uniquely drawn as any found in Dickens. But as with Twain, the humor both resonates and provides relief from the inhumanity that pervaded white South African society from that time and through most of the twentieth century.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

This novel, shortlisted in 1996 for the Booker Prize, is set during India’s tumultuous era in the 1970s while under the rule of Indira Gandhi. Mistry takes us all over India interspersing the personal accounts of four main characters that inhabit a society that is rigidly structured by class, in a country so overpopulated that there just isn’t enough infrastructure for everyone. Their stories eventually overlap and the author’s considerable talent at composing prose that evokes the trials and tribulations of a population just trying to get through each and every day despite politics, poverty and a culture that deprives women of the most basic social freedom, results in an elegant narrative that captures the essence of the human spirit.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

This was the first real literary work I ever read. It was assigned reading over the summer between the sixth and seventh grades and I ate it up in record time. I’ve read it two or three times since that summer and will probably do so again.

Winner of the 1932 Pulitzer Prize, it tells the life story of Wang Lun and his bride O-Lan, living in a small Chinese village eking out a meager existence in a country that today is nothing more than a distant memory. Buck’s thorough knowledge of the culture and the society of China during the turn of the nineteenth century through the early 1930s is an invaluable asset that allows the outsider to peer behind the Great Wall into a country that was considered then to be inexorably mysterious and probably one of the most exotic on earth. Today’s reader will feel as though transported through time to a China forever lost to the modern era.

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